PM mum on frayed relations with Wilson-Raybould over top court pick

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canadians should continue to have confidence in the independence of the justice system, after reports broke yesterday that the relations between he and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould first began to fray back in 2017 over her choice of Manitoba Justice Glenn D. Joyal to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada.

Responding to media questions in Winnipeg, Man. Trudeau offered little about the reports of the years old fraying of relations with his former justice minister, other than to say that Supreme Court appointments are always a decision left in the hands of the prime minister. Trudeau said that Canadians should also have confidence in « the way we operate as a government. »

This comes after CTV News and The Canadian Press reported on Monday— citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter—that Trudeau was concerned about her judgment after she recommended that Trudeau not only appoint Joyal to Canada’s top court, but have him become the chief justice.

Trudeau, who ultimately makes the decision about these appointments, rejected Wilson-Raybould’s pick, citing concerns over his possible interpretation of the Charter. Instead he appointed Alberta judge Sheilah Martin to the court, and Justice Richard Wagner became chief justice.

« Canadians can have confidence in our government’s respect for the institutions, for the Supreme Court. Canadians have confidence in the strength of our judiciary in this country, and I have no further comment to make on this issue, » Trudeau said.

Wilson-Raybould denied to CTV News that there was any conflict over the Supreme Court appointment and said that conversations in regards to this type of appointment should be confidential and that “commentary / reporting in this regard with respect to a SCC appointment(s) could compromise the integrity of the appointments process and potentially sitting Justices.”

In a statement, Joyal confirmed that he applied for the seat on the court but said he later withdrew his name from consideration for personal reasons, namely his wife’s metastatic breast cancer. He said he feared that someone was using his previous candidacy to « further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process. »

The PMO declined to comment on the matter on Monday.

The disagreement over the appointment cast a new light on the erosion of the relationship between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould, which his office and former top adviser Gerald Butts have cited as central to the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal, in which Wilson-Raybould has alleged, after being shuffled out of the justice minister and attorney general role, that she faced an improper and months-long effort from senior officials to politically interfere in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec construction firm.

With files from CTV News’ Senior Political Correspondent Glen McGregor

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